Keeping the faith in Dundee's Jewish community

By Stephanie Brickman, June 3, 2010
Community leader Sharon Levy with his daughter Tamara

Community leader Sharon Levy with his daughter Tamara

The patchy paintwork on the façade of the Dundee Synagogue building bears testimony to the clean-up operations after antisemitic daubings during the 1980s.

That was a tense time for the small Jewish community with Dundee twinned with Nablus and the PLO flag flying over the City Chambers. Local neo-Nazi factions took the link-up as a green light to target the synagogue and the community almost halved in 1984-85.

Things are much calmer nowadays, to the relief of Jerusalem-born Sharon Levy, who recently took the helm of the 132-year-old Hebrew congregation, whose members are scattered throughout Tayside and Fife. However, the majority, including Mr Levy and his family, reside closer to St Andrews than Dundee.

The challenges facing the core membership of around two dozen are immense. The synagogue has occupied its purpose-built home in St Mary's Place since 1978.

Constructed for the community by the city council after previous premises were subject to a compulsory purchase order, it is felt by some to be no longer fit for purpose.

"The building has symbolic elements but it was built a number of years ago and its upkeep is quite a task for a small and ageing community," Mr Levy said.

But despite the sentimental attachment to the building of a few older members, the community is discussing abandoning the Dundee site in favour of premises in St Andrews.

"Sometimes the spirituality of coming to a Jewish service is hampered by the building because it's cold and damp," Mr Levy said. "We need to think about a bright virtual area, where we could feel comfortable to share ideas and have a sense of community."

Leaders also hope to use the internet both to unite the scattered congregation and engage potential supporters - for example, the 100-plus members of the Jewish society at St Andrews University, the UK's fastest-growing J-soc.

One idea floated at the AGM is for the web facility to extend to film footage of a senior community figure sharing his memories. The congregation hopes to draw on the expertise of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre to realise its goal and archives' director Harvey Kaplan is happy to assist. "We'll try and help them to give a flavour of the past. We also hope that people with roots in Dundee will come forward. There are lots of streets and buildings with Jewish connections."

The site will be hosted by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities.

"Anything is possible," Mr Levy insisted. "We'll have a showcase for the world and find innovation from our members. Dundee has always been famous for jute, jam and journalism. Well maybe now cyber-Judaism too."

    Last updated: 2:01pm, June 3 2010